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The Cubs lineups are not as effective as they could be

A cautionary tale of handedness obsessions

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets
Mike Tauchman rounds the bases after a home run against the Mets
Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

If you are reading Bleed Cubbie Blue you likely obsess about the Chicago Cubs. You are probably watching all of the games, reading Al’s game recaps, joining in on the game threads here and there, and, if you’re anything like me, waiting obsessively for the lineup to come out each day.

Which means you’re likely already aware that the Cubs tend to run two fairly standard lineups out depending on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher. There are occasionally tweaks at the back of the order, but the general cadence is the same. For purposes of smoothing out those small changes, the lineups vs. RHP & LHP presented below are aggregated by RotoWire, which does an excellent job looking at long-term platoon splits and playing time for the purposes of fantasy baseball analysis. If you are really upset that a lineup doesn’t have say Tucker Barnhart or Nick Madrigal in it, well, that’s why. Bench players are represented by italics.

Against right-handed starters:

Cubs RHP lineup and bench

Mike Tauchman 219 12.79% 19.63% .280 .374 .435 .810 .156 .329 .354 123
Nico Hoerner 368 7.07% 13.86% .280 .345 .404 .749 .123 .309 .329 107
Ian Happ 366 16.67% 23.22% .247 .374 .413 .788 .167 .308 .347 118
Cody Bellinger 241 7.05% 15.35% .323 .365 .535 .900 .212 .337 .377 139
Dansby Swanson 336 10.12% 23.21% .261 .342 .435 .777 .174 .316 .339 113
Christopher Morel 234 8.97% 32.48% .279 .348 .529 .876 .250 .372 .372 135
Jeimer Candelario 328 8.80% 20.40% .285 .364 .535 .899 .250 .325 .382 140
Seiya Suzuki 281 11.39% 26.69% .249 .335 .404 .739 .155 .321 .322 102
Yan Gomes 184 3.80% 22.83% .262 .304 .381 .685 .119 .317 .297 85
Patrick Wisdom 157 12.74% 35.67% .203 .314 .541 .855 .338 .215 .359 127
Nick Madrigal 143 4.20% 6.99% .268 .340 .346 .687 .079 .284 .310 94
Miguel Amaya 58 5.17% 22.41% .244 .386 .400 .786 .156 .290 .355 124
Tucker Barnhart 104 9.60% 29.80% .196 .279 .239 .518 .043 .279 .241 48
Select Offensive Stats v. RHP FanGraphs

Against left-handed starters:

Cubs LHP lineup and bench

Christopher Morel 71 8.45% 35.21% .200 .268 .462 .729 .262 .229 .310 94
Nico Hoerner 135 5.19% 11.85% .273 .311 .398 .710 .125 .306 .308 92
Ian Happ 134 13.43% 23.13% .221 .336 .363 .699 .142 .275 .313 96
Cody Bellinger 126 8.73% 15.08% .339 .405 .598 1.003 .259 .356 .424 170
Dansby Swanson 116 11.21% 29.31% .245 .328 .490 .818 .245 .302 .348 119
Seiya Suzuki 120 7.50% 20.00% .269 .325 .407 .732 .139 .321 .317 98
Jeimer Candelario 135 8.90% 21.50% .244 .333 .556 .395 .151 .299 .319 98
Patrick Wisdom 103 7.77% 41.75% .189 .252 .442 .695 .253 .244 .295 84
Miguel Amaya 57 8.77% 26.32% .245 .351 .367 .718 .122 .333 .324 103
Mike Tauchman 44 13.64% 22.73% .270 .372 .405 .777 .135 .346 .346 117
Yan Gomes 107 5.61% 16.82% .283 .318 .525 .843 .242 .295 .350 120
Tucker Barnhart 17 11.76% 52.94% .267 .353 .400 .753 .133 .667 .332 109
Nick Madrigal 69 2.90% 11.59% .266 .288 .344 .632 .078 .304 .275 71
Select offensive stats v. LHP FanGraphs

A few observations right off the top that may be obvious but are worth stating explicitly. The Cubs are a much better hitting team against right-handed pitching and it’s not particularly close. Pretty much the entire lineup has an above average wRC+ against righties. Yan Gomes is the only exception and while I’ve objected to this vehemently in other formats, the Cubs seem totally fine running below average offensive options out at catcher.

These handedness splits were part of the impetus to get Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline — although it’s worth noting that his wRC+ of 98 against lefties, while better than the Cubs other option at third, is just slightly below league average.

And honestly, the Cubs are not unique in MLB here. Playing handedness platoons is pretty standard across the league. Most teams tweak their lineups based on handedness these days. The conventional sabermetric wisdom is clear that most players have notable handedness splits, which has led smart front offices and managers to tweak their lineups accordingly.

The problem is that the Cubs have guys on the bench who have better handedness splits this season than guys in the everyday lineup. It’s so pronounced at this point I honestly don’t understand why they are playing to these platoon splits at all. I could go into detail on every tiny thing I might do differently, but that would run this post far too long for a blog, so I’ll stick to my three main problems with the Cubs current lineup construction and leave the rest of the concerns for robust discussion in the comments.

Mike Tauchman should lead off every day

This is the Summer of Mike Tauchman. The phrase first coined by Cody Delmendo at CHGO is perfection. Cole Wright mentions it on the Marquee Sports Network pre- and post-game shows at least twice a week. Obvious Shirts already has a shirt for it. Danny Rockett already wrote a song, and you should check that out, because it’s great:

Mike Tauchman is having his best season since the juiced ball season in 2019 and the man does not have pronounced splits — but he sits against lefties for #reasons. I honestly don’t get it. His season-long wRC+ of 117 against LHP is better than every person currently in the left-handed lineup for the Chicago Cubs except Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson. He can play solid defense in center field and right field. When he’s in center, it allows the Cubs to move Bellinger to first base, which is awesome, because frankly every other not a first baseman they’ve put there this season routinely demonstrates that playing quality defense at first is a lot harder than the Cubs front office thinks it is.

And yet, day after day when the Cubs face a lefty, Tauchman starts on the bench and enters as a defensive replacement if the Cubs happen to have squeaked out a lead in the late innings. I do not understand why Tauchman and his second on the team OBP of .372 cannot lead off against lefties even a little bit at all.

Now, is it possible those numbers would come down with more exposure against left-handed pitching? It is. Which is why I tweeted out these career splits last night:

Tauchman is probably better than his career line with the season he’s having, but that career line would still be an improvement over the vast majority of the LHP lineup the Cubs run out there most days. He should leadoff every game.

Miguel Amaya needs to play more

I have no idea what insights Miguel Amaya is gleaning from the game of baseball while he sits on the bench four or five days a week, but I am very, very over it. I’m sure there are some great conversations with the college of former catchers the Cubs have assembled on their coaching staff talking him through things like pitch sequencing and game planning. I’m well aware that playing catcher is a truly arduous job. Seriously, try squatting for one minute right now and then realize that catchers do that for half an inning, at least nine times in a row, day after day, while facing major league pitching as hitters in between. It’s incredible that anyone catches at all for more than a few years, and I want Amaya to be the Cubs catcher for as long as he possibly can in MLB, so he needs to rest sometimes.

He’s also the best hitting catcher on this team, by a lot. It is weird that the Cubs run him out more against lefties than righties when his wRC+ against the former is 103 and his wRC+ against the latter is 124. When the Cubs looked like a team that might sell at the deadline, I just sort of grumbled about the lack of Amaya’s playing time and figured it was coming in the second half.

But the Cubs are in contention now and it’s borderline malpractice to leave a guy who is 39 percent better than Yan Gomes at driving in runs against right-handed pitchers on the bench 75 percent of the time because he’s... I don’t even know, learning something? Resting? Thinking about catching or hitting more in the future?

Playing Patrick Wisdom against LHP is unwise

Patrick Wisdom is a bench guy at this point in his career who should play as a designated hitter once a week to give Christopher Morel a day off and maybe one other time each week to give Nick Madrigal a day off at third base. He is not a first baseman. And while the official scorer in Toronto didn’t see fit to give Wisdom two errors, those plays helping the Blue Jays put up not one, but two, big innings against the Cubs, I will.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the Cubs were out of contention and just playing out the thread like they have each of the last two seasons, but this is a team that is half a game out of the Wild Card at the moment and 3½ games out of the N.L. Central lead. Every win matters and while I appreciate the raw power Wisdom brings to the Cubs and that they need that in the lineup on occasion, the way he’s being used right now is backwards.

Wisdom has more power against right-handed pitching this season, and not by a little bit, by a lot. ISO is a metric that looks at a batter’s power and to give you an idea of just how unbelievably powerful Widsom’s bat is, an excellent ISO is .250 or above according to FanGraphs. Wisdom’s ISO against lefties in 2023 is .253, that is excellent, but it pales in comparison to his ISO against right-handed pitching, which is .338. That would be a pretty good on-base percentage, it’s an utterly absurd ISO.

The highest recorded career ISO of all time is Babe Ruth’s .348. The highest career ISO in more modern times is Mark McGwire’s .325. Barry Bonds had a .309 ISO. Now, to be clear, comparing a half-season split against career all-time greats is unfair and not sound, so before anyone accuses me of calling Wisdom Barry Bonds, I’ll just be clear that his career ISO is a still excellent, but less gaudy .254 (sandwiched right between Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays on this leaderboard. Yes, I’m serious, click for yourself.). And I’ll even admit that his career splits do suggest he’s slightly more powerful against lefties — but like by a small bit, not a lot. Wisdom’s career ISO splits are .266 vs. LHP and .249 v. RHP.

Wild superlatives aside — Patrick Wisdom’s right handed ISO in 2023 is unbelievable — and for some reason he plays against lefties. That just has to stop. He can and should be a once or twice a week bench option at this point in 2023, but he probably should do that against righties. And he definitely should not do it while playing first base.


The Cubs are fun again. I wake up each day and check the Marlins, Giants and Phillies boxscores to see if the Cubs gained or lost ground in the standings. Wrigley Field is going to be electric this week as meaningful baseball is played in mid-August and they fight for a playoff spot. But the probability of them getting that playoff spot rests on the thinnest of margins and these lefty/righty lineup mistakes could very well be that margin. It’s time to put away the handedness obsession and put the best nine guys in the lineup each night.